Shakespeare’s Sisters: How Women Wrote the Renaissance

Knopf. Mar. 2024. 336p. ISBN 9780525658030. $33. LIT
In this decidedly feminist take on the literature of the English Renaissance, Targoff (English, Brandeis Univ.; Renaissance Women) profiles four women who wrote during Shakespeare’s lifetime: Mary Sidney, Aemilia Lanyer, Elizabeth Cary, and Anne Clifford. Lanyer may be the most interesting, as she was not a member of the aristocracy and was married to an immigrant. She wrote the first published work of poetry by a woman in England; it was about the Passion of the Christ from a completely female perspective, and she successfully gained patronage because of it. Cary wrote the first play published by a woman, about the Jewish princess Mariam. Clifford was a dedicated diarist who fought against the patriarchy to keep her family’s estate in her name. Sidney wrote poetry and translations of the Psalms. Targoff colorfully captures these women who followed their passion for writing at a time when women were considered property and did not always receive any formal education.
VERDICT This is a very readable but scholarly work on a little-known part of literary history. The inclusion of historical art and texts gives readers the flavor of the Renaissance. Recommended for larger public libraries and audiences who enjoy literary history.
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